This one is personal. One of the my favorite screen actors, William Hurt, has passed away at age 71.
I first saw Hurt in the movie Altered States at a movie theater in Kent, Ohio. I was young and knew nothing about the movie or director Ken Russell, but the movie poster with Hurt pictured upside down in sepia-toned hues was sufficiently weird and compelling to make me give it a try. I don’t remember why I was at the theater by myself, but the year it came out had been a tough one for me and I had been struggling with some issues, so it probably was a simple escape. To say that movie had an affect on me is an understatement. The existential questions of what it means to be human, the psychedelic imagery and the horror of nothingness hit me hard, particularly of where I was mentally at the time. Beneath it all, however, was the haunted, brooding persona of Hurt playing Dr. Eddie Jessup. This was a mad scientist tale, for sure, but one played with more doubt, humanity and torment than I had ever seen.
My primarily cinematic love is the horror genre, but my appreciation of cinema is broad. I love all movies and watch all genres, eras and topical matters. I’d like to say that was the case when I was young, and while I probably watched a few more artsty movies than my peers, to say I was well versed in movies then would be a lie. In the 1980s I was watching a lot of slashers. The truth was, as a young man, William Hurt drew me to watch movies I might not otherwise have watched back then simply because he was in them.
I was at the movies for The Big Chill, Gorky Park, The Kiss of the Spider Woman and Children of a Lesser God. I rented Broadcast News, The Accidental Tourist (I had read the book) and The Doctor. I sat through Lost in Space. I watched all these first because I wanted to see William Hurt, but these movies (except Lost in Space) would influence me and the way I look at movies forever, so on a personal level, I credit William Hurt as a key force that helped me broaden my range in movies. His passing to me is a passing of an era in myself.
As the 80s moved to the 90s, my range of movies continued to expand, and I remember the joy of watching William Hurt and Harvey Keitel in Smoke, a movie that didn’t feel exactly like a movie but that was a joy to experience. Hurt had led me to watch so many different genres and types of movies, and yet …
I have a confession to make. I had always hoped Hurt would step more into the horror genre. He would have been amazing.
It’s a selfish wish, and one that could have led to him being pigeon-holed without the ability to bring to life so many rich and compelling characters. I wouldn’t have wanted that, but still I know if Hurt had shifted toward the horror genre the way Vincent Price, Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing had, the results would have been remarkable. I’ve watched so many horror movies where I mused I bet this would have been a better movie with William Hurt. Nobody could do haunted and conflicted like Mr. Hurt, and he had the range to do potentially do chilling diabolical like nobody else. Even his name, Hurt, seemed made for horror.
That didn’t happen but doesn’t matter. I know he would have been remarkable in the genre, and in a parallel universe, or at least an imaginary universe in my head, William Hurt is a horror movie superstar.
Even though William Hurt didn’t join me in the cinematic worlds of horror except for a few brief forays, he made an indelible and permanent impression on me and my relationship with movies. For that I am forever grateful.
Rest in Peace.
William McChord Hurt, March 20, 1950 – March 13, 2022